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Friday, April 3, 2015

Gordon Saves Match Points to Reach International Spring Championships Semifinals, Neel Defeats Top Seed Arconada; 16s Finals Set; Easter Bowl 12s, 14s Begin Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Carson, CA--

Fifteen-year-old Michaela Gordon has played in enough Pro Circuit events to recognize a performance at that level, and down 6-1, 5-2 to No. 6 seed Katherine Sebov in the quarterfinals of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships, she was witnessing it first hand.

"At the beginning, she was playing amazing," said the No. 3 seed, who withstood Sebov's blitz to post a 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 victory. "I couldn't do anything. I was giving her everything I had, I was playing well, and she was just hitting winners. I was thinking if she plays this well, and she beats me like this, it's a good match for her."

After breaking Sebov serving for the match at 5-2, Gordon faced two match points on her serve, but she saved them both, although just barely.

"I kind of got lucky on one of the match points, because she missed, like by a couple of inches, a wide return I think," said Gordon. "But I started playing a little bit smarter, changing up the height of my rally balls a little more, and she started not playing as well as she had in the first set. And I think she got a little bit nervous."

Sebov didn't get close to a match point serving for it at 5-4, netting a forehand at 30-40, but she did hold to force a tiebreaker. Gordon stayed in front throughout it, and in the third set, got out to a quick 4-1, two-break lead.  As noon approached and the bright sun and lack of any breeze produced the hottest temperatures of the week, Gordon couldn't quite close the door.  She was broken serving at 4-1, but Sebov was broken again to make it 5-2.  Gordon didn't earn a match point serving for it, and Sebov held to make it 5-4, suggesting perhaps another twist in the plot of the nearly three-hour match.

"I got a little nervous when I was up 5-2 and I made a few unforced errors," Gordon said. "So I just decided to start going for it a little more."

Serving for the match at 5-4, 15-30, Gordon went all in on a forehand down the line, hitting a winner.

"I decide to like take the risk," Gordon said of that shot. "I thought if I didn't, then she probably would. And it paid off."

Sebov hit her next return wide, and on match point, a good first serve and forehand forced an error to give Gordon the win.

Gordon will play No. 2 seed Sonya Kenin, who defeated unseeded Emma Higuchi 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Gordon and Kenin met in the semifinals of the Grade 1 Coffee Bowl with Gordon, who won the title there, posting a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory.

The other girls semifinal will feature a battle of the IMG-based friends and doubles partners, with Ingrid Neel facing Fanni Stollar.

Neel overcame a slow start to beat top seed Usue Arconada 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, while Stollar, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament, got by unseeded Kelly Chen 6-2, 7-5.

Neel came to Carson from the qualifying at the Miami Open, where she beat WTA No. 85 Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-1, 6-2, and lost in two close sets to No. 115 Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.

"I keep building on the experiences I have, and Miami was a great one," said the 16-year-old, who is originally from Minnesota. "I'm really glad I got the chance so early in my career. It really helps in the juniors as well. There's a very big difference--in the pros, they just don't give you a point--and I'm kind of using that here. Try to act like a pro."

Neel is known for her aggressive net game, but it took her some time to work her way into the match with Arconada, who had beaten her at the Grade 1 in College Park last summer.

"In the first set, she was definitely more consistent than I was," Neel said. "She was being more aggressive, so I after that first set, I really committed to my game, stepped into every ball I could, came to net a lot more, and it really worked. And I executed well."

As for playing Stollar, Neel is looking forward to it.

"I've never played her in a tournament, so this will be a first," Neel said. "I do train with her and hit with her a lot. I'm going to try to have as much fun as I can while still trying to win, so it'll be a battle."

Although the top girls seed was eliminated, top boys seed William Blumberg rolled on, defeating qualifier Johnathan Small 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour.  Blumberg will play doubles partner Nathan Ponwith, the No. 5 seed, who came back from 5-1 down in the opening set against No. 5 seed Alejandro Tabilo of Canada to earn a 7-6(3), 6-1 victory.

No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, another IMG-trained player in the semifinals, beat back a strong challenge from wild card Jake Van Emburgh 7-6(3), 6-1.  Kecmanovic faced a set point at 5-6 in the first, but Van Emburgh netted a very makeable forehand and his chance was gone.  Van Emburgh's power had Kecmanovic shaking his head as winners rocketed by him, but the Serb's experience and consistency won out.

Next for Kecmanovic is unseeded Kalman Boyd, who defeated No. 16 seed Robert Levine 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Boyd, who will be joining the Southern Cal Trojans in the fall, was able to save all five break points he faced in his final two service games to preserve the win over Levine.

"I had to really keep it together," said Boyd. "He's a really good player. He is just always going through the court, and I was always five feet or more behind the baseline. So I had to be really physical and really focused, which is sort of hard for me. I like looking at the crowd a lot."

Boyd, of Rancho Santa Fe, was hoping to have this kind of a run near his home base.

"I was looking at the obvious good players, like Nathan Ponwith, Will Blumberg, and I was sort of wanting to play Francis Tiafoe and all those guys. If they were here, I was like, oh crap, I don't know how I'm going to do. But once I didn't see them, I was like, cool, maybe I can battle a little bit."

Boyd has not played Kecmanovic before, but knows he is facing one of the top ITF juniors.

"I was watching him, and he looks like a really good player," said Boyd, who will turn 18 next week. "He's doing really well, so it obviously will be tough."

The 16s finals are set for Saturday.

No. 5 seed Andrew Fenty and No. 6 seed Oliver Crawford will meet for the boys title after both battled back from a set down to advance.

Fenty defeated unseeded Ryan Goetz 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 and Crawford outlasted No. 8 seed Austen Huang 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

The girls final will feature No. 4 seed Victoria Flores against No. 15 seed Natasha Subhash.  Flores ended the run of 12-year-old Alexa Noel 6-3, 6-2 and Subhash eliminated No. 2 seed Alexandra Belaya 6-4, 6-2.

The girls 16s doubles final will be decided between No. 1 seeds Belaya and Emma Decoste and No. 8 seeds Jessica Anz and Jenna Moustafa.

Crawford and Brian Cernoch, the No. 1 seeds, will play unseeded Goetz and Ryan Seggerman in the boys 16s doubles championships.

The 18s doubles finals are also scheduled for Saturday.  Ponwith and Blumberg, the No. 1 seeds, will face No. 3 seeds Tabilo and Benjamin Hannestad of Denmark.

Unseeded Caroline Dolehide and Ena Shibahara will play Gordon and Raquel Pedraza, the No. 4 seeds, in the girls doubles final.

The Easter Bowl begins on Saturday for the 12s and 14s age divisions. Aidan Mayo(B12s), Govind Nanda(B14s), Gabriella Price(G12s) and Alexa Noel(G14s) are the top seeds.  Draws with match times are available at the TennisLink site.

Boys' 18 Singles (Quarterfinal Round)
William Blumberg (1) (Greenwich, CT)  def.  Johnathan Small (Zionsville, IN)  6-1, 6-0
Kalman Boyd (Rancho Santa Fe, CA)  def.  Robert Levine (16) (Bedford, NY)  4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Miomir Kecmanovic (2) (Boca Raton, FL)  def.  Jake Van Emburgh (Verona, WI)  7-6(3), 6-1
Nathan Ponwith (5) (Scottsdale, AZ)  def.  Alejandro Tabilo (4) (Etobicoke, Ontairo)  7-6(3), 6-1

Boys' 18 Doubles (Semifinal Round)
Benjamin Hannestad / Alejandro Tabilo (3) (Etobicoke, Ontario)  def.  Ulises Blanch (Deerfield Beach, FL) / Liam  Caruana (2) (New Braunfels, TX)  7-5, 6-4
William Blumberg (Greenwich, CT) / Nathan Ponwith (1) (Scottsdale, AZ) def. Robert Levine (Bedford, NY) / Catalin Mateas (6) (Braintree, MA) 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5)

Girls' 18 Singles (Quarterfinal Round)
Fanni Stollar (4)  def.  Kelly Chen (Cerritos, CA)  6-2, 7-5
Sonya Kenin (2) (Pembroke Pines, FL)  def.  Emma Higuchi (Los Angeles, CA)  6-2, 3-6, 6-3
Ingrid Neel (7) (Bradenton, FL)  def.  Usue Arconada (1) (Rio Piedras, PR)  3-6, 6-0, 6-3
Michaela Gordon (3) (Saratoga, CA)  def.  Katherine Sebov (6) (Woodbridge, ON)  1-6, 7-6(2), 6-4

Girls' 18 Doubles (Semifinal Round)
Michaela Gordon (Saratoga, CA) / Raquel Pedraza (4) (Claremont, CA)  def.  Emma Higuchi (Los Angeles, CA) / Katherine Sebov (5) (Woodbridge, ON)  2-6, 6-0, 10-7
Caroline Dolehide (Hinsdale, IL) / Ena Shibahara (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA)  def.  Kayla Day (Santa Barbara, CA) / Sonya Kenin (3) (Pembroke Pines, FL)  6-3, 6-4

Boys' 16 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Oliver Crawford (6) (Spartanburg, SC)  def.  Austen Huang (8) (Elk Grove, CA)  4-6, 6-2, 6-2
Andrew Fenty (5) (Washington, DC)  def.  Ryan Goetz (Greenlawn, NY)  3-6, 6-1, 6-2

Boys' 16 Doubles (Semifinal Round)
Ryan Goetz (Greenlawn, NY) / Ryan Seggerman (Coronado, CA)  def.  Adam Sraberg (Los Angeles, CA) / Matthew  Tsolakyan (Glendale, CA)  2-6, 7-5, 10-6
Brian Cernoch (North Bethesda, MD) / Oliver Crawford (1) (Spartanburg, SC)  def.  Danny Thomas (Pickerington, OH) / Maximilian  Wild (Carmel, IN)  6-2, 3-6, 10-3

Girls' 16 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Natasha Subhash (15) (Fairfax, VA)  def.  Alexandra Belaya (2) (Melbourne, FL)  6-4, 6-2
Victoria Flores (4) (Fort Dodge, IA)  def.  Alexa Noel (Summit, NJ)  6-3, 6-2

Girls' 16 Doubles (Semifinal Round)
Alexandra Belaya (Melbourne, FL) / Emma Decoste (1) (Stuart, FL)  def.  Elysia Bolton (Lake Forest, IL) / Ann  Li (3) (Devon, PA)  4-6, 6-3, 13-11
Jessica Anzo (Temecula, CA) / Jenna Moustafa (8) (Los Angeles, CA)  def.  Marcella Cruz (Marlboro, NJ) / Alexa Noel (5) (Summit, NJ)  4-6, 6-1, 10-6